The National Viral Hepatitis Action plan expires in 2020, and it’s estimated that between 2015 and 2030, if nothing additional is done, 19 million more people may be lost to viral hepatitis related deaths.
The HHS Program at The Liver Meeting® tackled the topic of “Eliminating Viral Hepatitis” with a full program of speakers looking at different aspects of the issue.
“Viral hepatitis remains a major global public health issue. There are many patients that suffer severe morbidity and mortality as a result of these diseases,” said program chair Rohit S. Satoskar, MD, FAASLD. “The World Health Organization and the National Academies have laid out a framework and a strategic plan to eliminate viral hepatitis as a public health issue by 2030.”
Vanila M. Singh, MD, MACM, Chief Medical Officer, OASH, US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), opened the session with a look at the HSS view of elimination efforts, especially in light of the opioid epidemic’s effect on the rising numbers of viral hepatitis patients.
Dr. Singh noted that the goals of the current Viral Hepatitis Action plan include preventing new viral hepatitis infections, reducing deaths and improving the health of people living with viral hepatitis, reducing health disparities and coordinating, monitoring, and reporting on implementation of viral hepatitis actions.
“A comprehensive prevention strategy includes provider and patient education, risk reduction counseling, hepatitis A and B vaccinations, HIV and hepatitis C testing and referral to care, and syringe service programs,” she said. “We’re also talking about naloxone distribution efforts as a means to certainly save lives in that very acute overdose situation, and to empower the patients and destigmatize viral hepatitis.”
Ways to destigmatize the disease, she added, include avoiding language that makes people feel bad, educating the community and healthcare providers, including counseling as part of the screening process and sharing personal stories of prevention and care.
The pathway to viral hepatitis elimination will involve not only patients and healthcare providers, she added, but also community resources, the research community and the government.
“I want to emphasize engaging at all levels, engaging new partners in public policy, in the trenches, in the community, perhaps with law enforcement,” said Dr. Singh. “Encourage testing and education to raise awareness and ensure care and treatment, and evaluate the interventions to best guide policy. We get stuck in the way that we do things, but we really have to learn to be nimble.”
Dr. Singh suggested that is where hepatologists and other care providers, who are in the trenches, come into play – by sharing case studies and new trends with policy makers.
With the current elimination plan expiring in 2020, she encouraged hepatologists to take a leading role in contributing their experience by sharing the latest challenges they face and their scientific and clinical advances with policymakers during the public comment period.
“That provides the evidence. We think things are often obvious and we share them amongst ourselves. Anecdotally, we talk about frustrations and challenges, but until they get to the policymakers, we don’t know if it’s real or not,” she said. “So please consider submitting your ideas about what’s needed to reach the viral hepatitis community in the United States. This will give you a great sense of empowerment and even more important to your patients because their stories get directly related to those that are making the decisions and policies.”